Some days it seems that all around you are exhortations to be happy. And some days, it feels like you might as well try to be cheese as be happy. So, how do you go about Achieving Happiness?
What is Happiness?
According to my favourite Oxford English Dictonary, happiness is:
1. The quality or condition of being happy.
2. The state of pleasurable contentment of mind; deep pleasure in or contentment with one’s circumstances.
3. Successful or felicitous aptitude, fitness, suitability, or appropriateness; felicity.
Oxford English Dictonary
So happiness is a quality (your essential nature), a state (e.g., solid, liquid, gas), or an aptitude (your innate capacity) for luck or good fortune. Or as Marcus Aurelius said, it’s all within yourself.
Which is kind of a roundabout way of saying it’s just what you are when nothing gets in the way. That to be happy, is more a question of subtracting than adding.
Subtracting for Happiness
So, to make it very very simple, gaining happiness is a matter of losing the things that make you unhappy. For example:
Comparing yourself unfavourably to others. And to do this, you might close some or all of your social media accounts, end “friendships” with people who make you feel bad about yourself, and stop reading glossy gossip or lifestyle magazines.
Being busy and stressed out all the time. What’s so important you have to do it now? Will the world come to an end if you don’t immediately check why your phone buzzed? What is so awful about your life that you won’t give yourself a moment of peace to just exist in? Why can’t you make time for people you love and activities you enjoy?
Declutter your physical space. Sometimes, the stuff around you can stress you out. It’s easy to go around chucking out empty beer cans and pizza boxes. But is it about time you threw out the gifts from your exes so you can focus on the current love of your life? Maybe go through your photos and delete all the ones with closed eyes and dopey expressions. Maybe think about Kondoing or Death Clearing. Make up your own mind about the books.
Declutter your mental space. Over the course of your life, you’ll grow a bit of mental clutter. A bit like the dead pirates in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise growing barnacles and corals and whatnot. One little thing builds on another little thing, and before you know it, you’ve become rigid and inflexible. Consider counselling to help scrape the barnacles off. So much better than keelhauling.
Ingratitude and unforgiveness. Even if your life is utterly shitty, you are incredibly lucky to be alive. Even in shittiness, there are marvels, even if right now it’s just the word ordure, which is just a fancy word for shit!
And if you want to be logical about it, after you’ve subtracted things that make you unhappy, you can increase your happiness further by intensifying the experiences that make you happy. For example:
Compare yourself favourably to others. Try volunteering to help those less fortunate than you, research how people lived in different countries or times, and try to understand what your politicians are trying to achieve when they demonise people within your community.
Slow down some more. Consider taking the bus rather than driving, make meals from scratch at home, drink your morning coffee outside and experience the sights, sounds, smells and touches of the outdoors.
Learn new things. Challenge your mind – learn new computer programmes, take dexterity challenges like origami or your thought processes with logic problems.
Be grateful for what you have, and forgive those who have harmed you. You’ve learned from your bad experiences, and they’ve made you stronger. Think forwards, not backwards, though you might need the counselling to see it.
It’s certainly true that many of us lose touch with what makes us happy. And when you’re too stressed to listen to yourself, you might have to test yourself to get there.
Every now and then, just check-in and see how you feel. On a scale of one to ten, how happy are you? Is there anything you can do to get yourself one point happier? What can you learn from your current situation to make your life happier in the future.
When you think you’re happy, pay attention to how your body feels. Try memorising it so you can recreate it at a time when you feel less happy than you’d like to.
Eat better, sleep better and move more. See if it makes a difference (and it will – you’ll live to be 100).
Spend more time with people you care about, and who care about you.
Learn to meditate.
So all up, happiness is about being, not doing. Though at times, the doing does make it more worthwhile.
Photo of happy days at “Te Hongi” c. 1923. Unnamed photographer, unnamed subjects, via State Library of Victoria.
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